Monday, September 29, 2014

Shadows of the Fall Holy Days

As a child, I liked to make shadow puppets - on the movie projector in my classroom, at a sleepover after being threatened with bodily harm if I didn't stop giggling, wherever. I wasn't very good at it - I never progressed past the basic rabbit or dog. But it was fun anyway. Now that I'm a mother, I sometimes get called into my kids' bedrooms at night to vanquish eerie shadows. It's usually a toy at just the wrong angle in front of the nightlight, or a closet door left ajar.

We get a shadow when an object obstructs a beam of light. The object prevents the light from passing through and hitting a surface on the other side of the object. Looking at shadows can give us limited information about an object - if you see my shadow, you might be able to tell I am female. A good scientist might be able to deduce my height. But there are many things you can't tell - for example, my hair and eye color, let alone my talents or emotions. So shadows may give us some clues about the object casting them, but they give incomplete information. And they can't replace the real thing. If the light is right, I might cast a shadow on the kitchen wall while I cook. But if my family depended on that shadow to make dinner, they'd get pretty hungry.

So far in this series, we've looked at the implications of Colossians 2 and the Holy Days under the New Covenant. We've looked at the book's backstory and context and compared it with the background the Churches of God describe. We've turned to the Greek language and Jewish traditions of the day to fact-check COG claims. So now, with all that background established, we can look at the Holy Days themselves.

Before I go any further, I want to talk to you, reader. If you visit this blog regularly, chances are good that you sense something is off in the COGs and are looking for answers. There probably are times when you don't know what the questions are, or who you would ask. You've tried that with your brethren. They don't have the answers. They don't even understand your concerns. And your minister can't answer them - when he tries, he botches it so badly that you just end up with more questions. Great, no answers. And now you're on his List. So scratch that idea. I'm so sorry, reader. I've been there, and it's not a fun place to be. That's how I stumbled upon As Bereans Did. People here helped me, and now I'm here because I want to pay it forward. You can email me with your questions anytime you want at

Let me assure you, no one here at ABD is judging you, looking at you funny or calling your minister. We have all been in your spot. I'm not trying to ruin your Feast. I know you're sincere, you just have some questions. I know you are trying to obey, trying to please God the best way you know how. I'm writing this series because I - like you - was handed a set of assumptions about the Holy Days. To be blunt, that picture was based largely on speculation, contains a lot of inaccuracies and explains only the shallowest of reasons why mainstream Christians do not celebrate them. But given the assumptions we were handed, what other possible alternatives could there be? This series tries to answer some of those questions that you won't ask. That you won't even think to ask, because they won't occur to you. They certainly never occurred to me. But please remember, through all this, no one here is judging you or your motives.

With all that in mind, let's revisit the verses in question, Colossians 2:16-17:

"So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ."

The Greek word for shadow - "skia" means a shadow or a shade, according to Spiros Zodhiates' Complete Word Study of the New Testament. Thayer's Greek Lexicon gives us a little more concrete description - an outline, sketch or image cast by an object and representing the form of that object, as opposed to the object itself.

From a literary standpoint, Paul seems to be contrasting the intangible, murky image of a shadow with the substance, the tangibility, the certainty of Jesus Christ. Or more specifically, of right standing with God by grace through faith in Him. The word "soma" means body, according to Zodhiates. Thayer's simply adds the word "physical" to the definition.

The phrase "things to come" is a word cluster; in Greek it is translated "mello" and generally refers to an event that is at the cusp of occurring.

The COGs probably shouldn't cling too tightly to the idea that "things to come" must refer to events in the distant future when it comes to the Holy Days. Christ's sacrifice and the giving of the Holy Spirit - two things the spring festivals picture - happened long before Colossians was written, yet their definition requires us to classify them as "things to come."

In his Jewish New Testament Commentary, David H. Stern explains this phrase to mean,
"'These are a shadow of things which were yet to come,' meaning the good things that happened when Yeshua (Jesus) came the first time but were still in the future when kashrut (dietary laws) and the festivals were commanded." In other words, at the time they were instituted they foreshadowed that something better was coming in the Messiah.

The coming Savior was foreshadowed long before Sinai - the concept is not exclusive to the Sinai Covenant. In Genesis 3:15, God first hinted to Adam that a future descendant would overcome Satan. In the Abrahamic Covenant, God promised Abraham that all the world would be blessed through one of his descendants (Genesis 22:18). And God told David that a descendant of his would reign forever (1 Kings 2:45). The shadows in the Sinai Covenant were among several hints that Messiah was coming.

But how on earth could God's Holy Days be incomplete? This idea is almost inconceivable from a COG standpoint, which argues from the assumption that the Holy Days were intended for all time, for all of mankind. Consider another perspective - that of Stern and other Messianic Jews, who believe that God gave Israel the Sinai Covenant "in the context of Israel's peoplehood, and its details reflect what God knew Israel needed in order to grow spiritually" (p. 611). For Gentiles, Stern says, Jewish practices are in most cases nothing more than a shadow, since they do not arise out of their national experience, their heritage or cultural background.

"Therefore to cling to the prophetic shadow is to obscure the spiritual reality of which those things were a prefigurement," according to Expositor's Bible Commentary (Exposition of Colossians 2:17).

(This is probably a good time to remind you that, unless your last name is Levy, Goldman or something similar, your ethnic heritage probably is not Hebrew. At this point, genetic research has refuted British Israelism - the theory that Western Europeans and Americans are ethnically descended from the "Lost 10 Tribes of Israel." In short, you are a Gentile. A Gentile God loves, a Gentile for whom Jesus willingly suffered and died, but a Gentile nonetheless.)

For more information along these lines, please visit:

So why should we care what Messianic Jews have to say about the Holy Days? Because they are in the unique position to both understand what the Holy Days meant to those to whom God gave them and see the how the picture they painted was incomplete. Certainly we need to consider the Hebrew perspective, because the Holy Days were given to Israel. But this perspective isn't enough, since most Jews ultimately missed the signs and rejected Jesus when He came. At the very least, looking through a Messianic Jewish lens may give us a much more accurate picture than that of a 20th century advertising salesman born into a Quaker family.

As we begin, remember that these posts on Colossians 2 are not intended to exhaustively refute Christian celebration of the Holy Days, but to explain how they were shadows intended to point ancient Israel to Christ.

The Feast of Trumpets

To Israel, the Feast of Trumpets was a time for introspection and self-examination, (Getting Tested for Rosh Hashanah, David Brickner, Jews for Jesus Newsletter, September 1, 2004). The eerie sound of the shofar signified a call to repentance and reconciliation with man and God in preparation of the judgment pictured by the Day of Atonement.

The Feast of Trumpets was not associated with any historical or national event, but as a universal and personal celebration, according to Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi (God's Festivals in Scripture and History, Part II: The Fall Festivals, p. 54). It was not observed joyfully, but in a spirit of moral and spiritual introspection, "as befits a plaintiff coming before the Supreme Judge and Ruler of the Universe, appealing for his life."

Ancient Israel had three types of trumpet calls that communicated different messages. The one connected to the Feast of Trumpets was an alarm, says Joshua Moss (Hearing the Sound of the Shofar, Jews for Jesus Newsletter, September 1993). The holiday could literally be translated "the Day of Alarm," Moss says, which better communicates its intent.

Shorter shofar blasts sounded each month at the New Moon anticipated the Feast of Trumpets and reminded the hearer that a call to repentance was coming (figuratively and literally, since this festival was held on the first day of the seventh month), according to Bacchiocchi (p. 56).

Why should Israel be called to alarm at the end of the summer harvest, when barns were full of grain and storehouses full of fruit? Remember Deuteronomy 8, which warns Israel not to forget God when their stomachs and their storehouses were full, Moss explains. God predicted that Israel would become prideful in good times and forget how He rescued them from slavery in Egypt, and would be destroyed because of it. The trumpet blast called individual Israelites to assess their spiritual state and repent before the day of reckoning, pictured by the Day of Atonement.

During this period, Jews picture themselves on trial before God, with their life placed on the balance scales, according to Rabbi Irvin Greenberg (as quoted in God's Festivals in Scripture and History, Part II: The Fall Festivals, p. 60).

"A thorough assessment is made: Is my life contributing to the balance of life? Or does the net effect of my actions tilt the scale toward death?" Greenberg writes. "My life is being weighed; I am on trial for my life. Who shall live and who shall die?".

Incomplete without a Messiah, the Hebrew Feast of Trumpets leaves questions gnawing at even the most repentant, humble man, according to Carolyne Rohrig (The Ultimate Guide to Rosh Hashanah, Jews for Jesus Blog, September 25, 2013). How do we know if we've recognized every sin we've committed? When do we know if we've repented enough? If we've been good enough? And if we fall short on either account, are our names are blotted out of the Book of Life?

"God provided a substitute, His Son Jesus who atoned for our sins by His death on the cross," Rohrig writes. "The gnawing doubt is gone. The only 'enough' that God requires is to believe in Y'shua (Jesus) because He's done it all!".

The Feast of Trumpets reminded Israel of their sins against God, their broken promises to their neighbors and their failure to lead a godly life. They repented for 10 days in preparation for the Day of Atonement. But even God's acceptance of the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement was not totally certain. Tradition holds that the high priest wore a rope so his body could be pulled out of the Holy of Holies in case God found his sacrifice unworthy and struck him dead. Now what? Are the sins of the nation forgiven? The checklist obedience system from Sinai meant that if you left a box unchecked, you could be at risk for eternal punishment. Only complete forgiveness through faith in Jesus can answer the gnawing questions the Feast of Trumpets left unanswered.

Like the COGs, some Messianic Jews believe the Feast of Trumpets may tie in with the return of Christ. While this theory makes sense, it is speculative, and we must be careful not to allow speculative prophecy to override the clearer instruction that tenets of the Sinai Covenant were not to be imposed upon Gentiles (see Acts 15:7-29 and Galatians 4:21-31, for examples of this instruction). Regardless, for Messianic Jews, the central theme of Rosh Hashanah is fulfilled in Christ's sacrifice.

"For us Jewish believers in Y'shua the kavanah, or central theme upon hearing the shofar, is joy in the knowledge that we have already allowed the seriousness of our sins to alarm us; we have heard and received the good news—that God has atoned for sin, and that He delivers us from calamity through the sacrifice of our righteous Messiah," Moss writes.

Now looking for a refresher on the COG's Feast of Trumpets? Look here and here.

The Day of Atonement

The Day of Atonement is inextricably connected with sacrifice for sin. Jews fasted to demonstrate their godly sorrow for their sins, according to Bacchiocchi, hoping a repentant attitude on earth would influence the outcome of their heavenly judgment. This most solemn day of the year was the only one on which the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies. One goat was sacrificed for the nations's sins and its blood was then sprinkled on the mercy seat. Substitutionary death for sin was familiar to Israel under the Sinai Covenant. Contrition alone did not forgive sin. A blood sacrifice was required.

The symbolism of the second goat - the Azazel - is still debated today. Some believe the goat was a symbol of Christ - the sins of the nation confessed over his head, then lead outside the city (Hebrews 13:12). Others believe the goat was an encouraging symbol of Psalm 103:12 - a reminder that God removed repented, forgiven transgressions from the sinner, as far away as East is from the West. Still others use scriptural clues as well as etymological and extrabiblical resources from the period to conclude the goat represented Satan. Regardless, the Azazel goat was an interesting symbol, but it has no bearing on the real problem with the Day of Atonement - the weakness of the mediator.

The Day of Atonement was incomplete because it lacked a perfect mediator - an individual who stands between two estranged parties and seeks to reconcile them, says Efraim Goldstein (The Role of Mediator, Jews for Jesus, Issues, Vol. 5, No. 2). It was the role of the High Priest to do so, but even his sin could be a barrier. Before he could enter the Holy of Holies, the High Priest was required to sacrifice a bull as an offering for his own sin (Leviticus 16:6). If God did not accept his sacrifice, he would be smitten. Tradition has it that the High Priest wore a rope around his waist so that he could be pulled out of the Holy of Holies in case God struck him down. This practice shows just how uncertain righteousness obtained through man's actions really is. If our forgiveness depends on the efforts of a flawed human - either mediator or sinner - the outcome is uncertain at best.

Bacchiocchi lauds the Hebrew Day of Atonement as superior to other religious atonements because it set aside one day each year "for the people to experience freedom from the crushing isolation of guilt and a new reconciliation with God" (p 134). To Bacchiocchi I say, great, what about the other 364 days? Spending the majority of the year crushed under guilt and isolation is a good indication that something might be missing.

Observing the Day of Atonement differentiated between genuine and false believers, Bacchiocchi explained (p. 156). Genuine believers who repented throughout the year, brought appropriate sin offerings and celebrated the day the proscribed way were pronounced clean. But false believers who failed to do these things were not pronounced clean. Which leads one to wonder - just how righteous did the believer have to be in order to be pronounced clean? How many sins could he forget to repent of? How many offerings could he miss, even accidentally, before he became a false believer?

These kind of uncertainties haunted Louis Goldberg for much of his adolescence and early adult life. His synagogue teachers answered the young Jewish man's questions from the Old Testament, but he was still plagued by doubt (A Jewish Believer and the Atonement, Jews for Jesus, Issues). Did God really hear his prayers? And was simply repenting even sufficient? The Sinai Covenant required a blood sacrifice for sins. But there was no blood in his synagogue's modern celebration. What real assurance did he have that his sins had been forgiven?

Goldberg's honest concerns have merit, in my opinion. The Day of Atonement was part of the Sinai Covenant, which was a package deal, according to James 2:10. It was all or nothing. You can't alter Leviticus 16 to fit your wants, needs or culture. That goes for both Jews and the Churches of God. If you can't carry it out today as prescribed, maybe there's a problem. Bacchiocchi himself recognizes this problem, yet fails to carry the thought through to its logical conclusion.

"When the hope of obtaining forgiveness and atonement through the sacrificial system was shattered by the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70, the Jewish leadership was faced with a crisis they had not encountered since the Babylonian captivity," he writes (p. 161). "Without a temple, without an altar, without sacrifices, how could the Day of Atonement, the most crucial day in the Jewish consciousness, continue to be observed?".

Instead of considering that perhaps the festival's purpose had been fulfilled, Bacchiocchi commends the Jews for their creativity in reshaping the holiday. To me, Hebrews 8:13 comes to mind: "In that He says, 'A new covenant,' He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away." The festivals had become obsolete in Christ's sacrifice, and their practice in the scripturally-mandated way would vanish after the Temple was destroyed. Bacchiocchi described the Jews' efforts to adapt the festivals as noble, but could they just as easily be considered futile?

Goldberg vascillated between agnosticism and practicing Jewish rituals for years, but his questions about the adequacy of the rituals remained. An outspoken Christian co-worker forced him to confront his questions by challenging him to read the New Testament. He was surprised to find that the picture of Jesus' atoning sacrifice Paul's words painted was based on what Moses already taught.
"This is an atonement by which we know that our sins have been forgiven. It is a redemption by which we have the assurance that our names are recorded in the Book of Life, not for just one more year, but for all eternity. My study led me to these conclusions. The forgiveness of sins that I had begun to seek as a child was accomplished through Y'shua (Jesus)," he writes.

The Day of Atonement, as celebrated by Israel, was a shadow of Jesus' sacrifice for our sins. But the need for annual sacrifices each Yom Kippur ended; finding their fulfillment in Jesus - the perfect mediator, sacrifice and high priest. As God and man, Jesus was able to span the chasm that sin created. He was the goat sacrificed, His blood offered for mercy, for forgiveness of the sins of the people. Believers can rejoice in the knowledge that they have been forgiven, not just for a day, but forever, through the shed blood of the Messiah.

A COG perspective on the Day of Atonement can be found here.

In my next post, we'll take a look at the Messianic Jewish understanding of the Feast of Tabernacles, and consider scriptures that discuss the Holy Days in the apostolic age as well as after Christ's return.

------- Other posts in this series -------
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It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What Do You Mean 'The Feast of Trumpets'?

Did you know that the Feast of Trumpets is the only holy day in the Bible where the purpose of the day is not spelled out anywhere? It's true! Since that is the case, and since Armstrongism teaches that observing the day is mandatory in the New Covenant, it has to create some form of interpretation. But chances are if you ask people what the day means, the majority will say something about end-time prophecy, a great deal will not be able to tell you very much about the day at all, and many will give differing explanations.
There is no orthodoxy in the COGs. There is no systematic theology. No catechism. No creed. No unified authority. There is no single place where doctrine is defined and recorded. Anyone can teach anything they like, in any way they like, about anything they like, so long as they appear to uphold the idea that Feast of Trumpets observance is mandatory.

So the way I figure it, we would do well to review the facts surrounding that day to choke off any well-meaning sermon with bad information before it can take root.


The English phrase Feast of Trumpets is translated from the Hebrew phrase Yom Teruah. "Feast of Trumpets" is a poor translation, though. Yom Teruah is more precisely translated “Day of Great Shouting” or “Day of Sounding the Shofar”.

The words "the shofar" have to be added because the word Teruah is one Hebrew word that means a great shout or the sound of a shofar (not the shofar itself). Since English doesn't have just one word like that then it should become a phrase. "Day of Shofar" doesn't work well as a translation because it's the sound of the shofar that the word points to not the shofar itself. Notice, neither does "Feast of Trumpets".
First, even though this is one of the festival days, the English word "feast" isn't a direct translation of Yom. Yom means "day". Second, the English word "trumpets" isn't a translation of Teruah at all. Teruah refers to a shofar, not a trumpet, and it refers to the sounding of the shofar not the shofar itself. If anything, "Day of the Sounding of Trumpets" might work. But you should know the Jews specifically make a distinction on this day between shofars and trumpets, and trumpets are not used.

Rabbinical Judaism has preferred to call the day Rosh Hashannah, which means Head of the Year. It's the Jewish secular New Year's day. Yes, the Jews have more than one New Year's.

The main Biblical instruction is to be found in Leviticus and Numbers.

(LEV. 23: 23-25) 23 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 24 “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets [shofars], a holy convocation. 25 You shall do no customary work on it; and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord.’”

(NUM 29: 1-6) 1 ‘And in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work. For you it is a day of blowing the trumpets [shofars]. 2 You shall offer a burnt offering as a sweet aroma to the Lord: one young bull, one ram, and seven lambs in their first year, without blemish. 3 Their grain offering shall be fine flour mixed with oil: three-tenths of an ephah for the bull, two-tenths for the ram, 4 and one-tenth for each of the seven lambs; 5 also one kid of the goats as a sin offering, to make atonement for you; 6 besides the burnt offering with its grain offering for the New Moon, the regular burnt offering with its grain offering, and their drink offerings, according to their ordinance, as a sweet aroma, an offering made by fire to the Lord.

Notice the command to blow the shofar. This is central to the day.
As I mentioned, a trumpet will not do, not even a silver trumpet like the ones blown on the Sabbath day; it must be a shofar. When was the last time your Church of God group blew the shofar on this day? Mine never did. (The law! The law! Just not that law.) We blew a brass trumpet once. Ever. So, just as we never made booths at the Feast of Booths, we also never blew shofars at the Day of Blowing Shofars.
Needless to say, if your church isn’t blowing the shofar on the feast of blowing the shofar – you’re doing it wrong.

Teruah isn’t just the noise of a shofar; teruah can also describe the noise made by a large crowd of people. A ruah is a shout, and a teruah is a great shout.

(JOS. 6: 4-5) 4 And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. But the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. 5 It shall come to pass, when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet, that all the people shall shout [ruah] with a great shout [teruah]; then the wall of the city will fall down flat. And the people shall go up every man straight before him.”

If teruah is a great shout, then Yom Teruah is the Day of the Great Shout. Yom Teruah is a day of loud noise. Jewish scholars always count four additional verses as helping to describe teruah: Psalms 44: 7; 66: 1; 81: 1-3; and 100: 1.

The noise isn’t always joyful, however. It can indicate a lot of noises, including the noise of alarm, or a battle cry. The Jews prefer the noise of alarm for this day and we'll see why later. One possible name for the day is "Day of Alarm".
Are you making a holy racket and blowing shofars on the Feast of Great Noise? If you feel that you are legally obligated to observe this day and you aren't making a great noise on the feast of great noise – you’re doing it wrong.

7,000 YEAR PLAN?

I wonder, if there is no shouting or shofar blowing on this day, how do the Armstrongist COG groups explain the Feast of Trumpets? How do they understand it? How do they justify it? What does it all mean?

One of the primary claims from Armstrongism to justify holy day observance in the New Covenant period is this: "The holy days reveal “God’s 7,000 year plan”. But do they? Let's investigate.

Let us ask the first big question – what is the meaning of the Feast of Trumpets? 

According to Armstrongism it points to, you guessed it, the seven trumpets of Revelation. Why? Because “trumpets”. Then what is Atonement? According to Armstrongism Atonement points to the time immediately after the return of Christ, at the start of the 1,000 year reign, when Satan is imprisoned.
Then what is Tabernacles? According to Armstrongism Tabernacles points to the one thousand year reign of Christ, called “the Millennium”. (Please read our article "You SHOULD Keep the Feast of Tabernacles!" for more on this topic.)
Then what is the "Last Great Day", which the United Church of God calls "The Eighth Day"? According to Armstrongism the Last Great Day represents the close of "the Millennium". (Please read our article "Is the "Last Great Day" In the Bible?" for more on this day.)

Notice anything odd there? Trumpets is the time immediately before the Millennium, Atonement is the time immediately before or even during the Millennium, Tabernacles is the Millennium, and the Last Great Day is the time during or just after the Millennium. If the seven holy days picture “God’s 7,000 year plan” then how can four holy days picture a time a few months or a couple years more than 1,000 years?

This all begs the question. We have not actually demonstrated that the 7 holy days picture the 7,000 years. So, in what way do the 7 holy days picture the 7,000 years?

If the 7 holy days represent 7,000 years then is there one holy day for each of the seven 1,000-year periods? Here we see four holy days representing the final 1,000 year period. Where then are the previous 6,000 years represented? You only have 3 holy days remaining! Which of those three represent the time before the Exodus?
We go over this in far greater depth in our article "Seven Thousand Year Plan".

Or maybe there isn't one holy day for each of the 1,000 year periods in "God's 7,000 year plan". Maybe the timing of the days in the year is the key of David. Then, why is Trumpets nine days from Atonement (ten if you count inclusively) and Atonement is five days from Tabernacles (six if you count inclusively)? What sense does that timing even make in this context?
If Trumpets represents something that should be up to three years long, and culminates in Atonement, then why are they nine days from each other? If Atonement represents something that happens during the Millennium, then why is it five days from Tabernacles? And if there are seven trumpets pictured, why aren't there seven Feasts of Trumpets each year? There are seven days in other places!

The only real, substantive thing we have here is the number 7. The 7 holy days apparently represent "God's 7,000 year plan" solely because of the number 7. There's a 7 in both. And that's all we have.

Let us ask the next big question - why would we conclude "the Old Testament holy days display God's 7,000 year plan" in the first place?

First off, where in the Bible does it say that there is a 7,000-year plan of God? Nowhere. The Sabbath day is a rest period at the end of the week, yes, but is the Millennium a "rest period"? Seems to me people will be working very busily in that time. This is just more speculation based on vague similarities.
Where in the Bible does it say that Jesus will return on or near the 6,000th year of man's history? Nowhere. Where in the Bible does it ever tell us what year it is? Nowhere. We can try to calculate what year it is from lifespans of the patriarchs, but you will run into a gap between Judges and Solomon. One would suppose that the Jews had tried this approach by now, yet they say it's the year 5774 [in Gregorian year 2014 when this article posted]. Most people that I've seen trying to add up the years come to different conclusions, and most of those conclusions say we're past that 6,000th year already. Herbert Armstrong at first taught that the 6,000 years would be up in 1936. Then again in 1975. I have an old document from Harold Smith that "proves" the 6,000th year is fall of 2016. Unfortunately, that would mean we are 1 year into the Tribulation right now in 2014.

If this were spelled out in the Bible, you'd think we would point to verses a lot more and speculate a lot less, no?

So, once again, we are left with only one substantive explanation: that the 7 holy days represent "God's 7,000 year plan" because of the number 7. There's a 7 in both.

Now let's ask the next big question - in what way does the distinct nature of Yom Teruah teach us about the seven trumpet plagues of Revelation?

If it truly is so vital that God commands in the New Covenant period that we all observe this day in order to understand the "7,000 year plan of God" and enter the Kingdom of God, then in what way does observance of this day impart understanding that nothing else could have done? Do I have to observe the day to get this understanding? Does understanding come from the day itself, or from a sermon given on or about the day? Would that same sermon given on a different day give one the same understanding? The Jews observe this day; do they get this understanding from the day? Armstrongist COG's don't even so much as blow shofars on this day of shofar blowing. In what substantive way did this day teach me about the seven trumpet blasts of Revelation that any other day of the year could not possibly have taught me?

So we return again to our original question, why would we conclude that the Old Testament holy days display "God's 7,000 year plan" in the first place? The only substantive answer we have is because there are 7 of them and 7,000 years in the plan. That's it. That's the entire doctrine. So, 7 and 7,000 is the reason. In other words, it's the exact same thinking that we are given as to why the Feast of Trumpets means the seven trumpet plagues of Revelation. Because they both contain the English word "trumpets".
And I'm supposed to base my salvation around that?

I've checked several COG websites, reading articles about the Feast of Trumpets, and every last one of them base their doctrine on scant else than this. The one who comes closest to something more substantive is the Church of the Great God, who clearly put more thought into it than the others and try to point the reader to Jesus Christ - which I commend.

Let's pause before we conclude and think about what is being claimed here.
The claim is that God made a feast - a festival, a celebration - of the seven trumpets of Revelation. Have you read about the seven trumpets of Revelation lately? They are plagues. Plagues! The seven trumpet plagues and the bowl plagues are not something to be having a festival about! They are dark and terrible times. They are a godless time of suffering, death, and darkness according to Armstrongist interpretation of these things. Of all of the events in our history, why on earth would you feast over that??
I recognize that it's not in anyone's intention to celebrate the plagues themselves. The COG groups understand what they are doing as pointing towards the event of the Second Advent of Christ at the seventh trumpet blast. They focus on the seventh trump. The problem is that if Trumpets points to the trumpets of Revelation, then there is no escape from the implications of the first 6 trumpets.

Before the death of Herbert Atmstrong it was taught that Trumpets would be the day Christ would return to earth. Once again, this is more of the same Trumpets/trumpets business. A division arose after the death of Herbert Armstrong where people have started teaching that Pentecost will be the day when Jesus will return. This weighs heavily on the interpretation of Trumpets.
This division robs Trumpets of its Armstrongist meaning. To put meaning back in, people have speculated that Trumpets will be the day of the first trumpet blast rather than the seventh. Note how this greatly strengthens the day as being a celebration of plagues. Others speculate that Jesus will return to gather His saints on Pentecost, then He will have the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (REV. 19: 7-9) while the vials of God's wrath are poured out on the world (REV. 15: 5-7 and following chapters), and then He will return to earth yet again on Trumpets to fulfill Rev. 19: 19-21. Except, Revelation 19 isn't paired with a trumpet blast at all. So, what that has to do with Trumpets is anyone's guess.
This is all very interesting to think about! However, when we pause to calm our imaginations and evenly dissect what is being said, we see nothing at all of genuine substance is backing these claims up. All prophetic interpretation is speculation. These speculations on the timing of Jesus' second coming are particularly unsupported. It's not based in any fact at all, biblical or otherwise. But now, with these new timeline hypotheses, they don't even conform to the "Trumpets is trumpets" idea.

I recognize that at this point at least one person out there is thinking, "The author's mind is just too closed to accept the plain truth of 7 & 7,000 or trumpets & trumpets."
But in my defense, the things I'm being given aren't proof. The Armstronist explanation doesn't even remotely resemble proof. It's conjecture at best. I cannot reach the conclusion that Trumpets = trumpet plagues from what is being presented to me. It's drawing sweeping conclusions from the barest minimum similarities. Doesn't anyone but us see that one must already accept the conclusion before this evidence is presented?

And none of it, not a single thing, matches Jewish interpretation.


Yom Teruah is the only holy day in the Bible where the purpose of the day is not explicitly spelled out. That doesn't mean we can make up anything we darned well please, though. We've seen the Armstrongist interpretation already. So I wonder, how do the Jews see Yom Teruah? It would be wise to ask the Jews how they see the meaning of their holy day.

“The biblical name for Rosh Hashanah is Yom Teruah.
Numbers 29:1 commands us to observe a Yom Teruah, on the first day of the seventh month. (Why the Jewish New Year is celebrated in the seventh month is another issue: suffice it to say that the rabbis list a total of four new years in the Jewish calendar.)
Teruah means a massive shout, either by a crowd or by a horn. For example, the walls of Jericho came tumbling down when the people (Joshua 1:20) “raised a mighty shout” (teruah gedolah).
This is a form of prayer and appears many times in Psalms — for example, “All you people clap your hands, raise a joyous shout (teruah) to God” (47:2).
As for meaning a shofar blast, during their travels in the desert, a teruah of the shofar let the Israelites know that it was time to move on.
Both of teruah’s meanings, supplicatory shouting and the sounding of the shofar, unite in Yom Teruah. It is a day of blowing the shofar and a day of prayer. The feeling of yearning exemplified in the shofar’s ululations are meant to inspire us to long to connect to God in a way that is beyond what words can measure.”

-Rabbi Julian Sinclair, September 17, 2009, “Teruah”, Jewish Chronicle Online,

Jewish tradition also sees a few other things in the day - for example it is believed to be the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve. But more importantly, the Jews believe that God writes names in His Book of Life on the Day of Atonement, so Yom Teruah is ten days to get your affairs in order, repent of your sins, and make right what you've done wrong in order to receive a better mark from God for the year.

In a nutshell, the Jewish perspective on Trumpets is that it points to Atonement. It The Bible never explains what Trumpets is about because by itself it isn't about anything. Trumpets is a time to prepare for Atonement.

Now, given what we’ve learned here, which makes more sense:
A) That teruah is a wake-up call to look at your life and refocus on your relationship with God, with praise and thanks?
B) That teruah was translated into the English word “Trumpets” and therefore it can refer to nothing other than the seven last trumpets of Revelation?

I'm going with A).

But… “trumpets”!


Yom Teruah is also called Zichron Teruah (LEV. 23: 24). The word Zichron is translated “memorial”. That’s a memorial, not a looking forward.

I want to point another thing out here. I often hear a certain argument in support of the weekly Sabbath. It’s a small, little argument and it goes like this: “Exodus 28:  says ‘Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.’ See? It says ‘remember’. Therefore the Sabbath had to already have been being kept.”
Well, it was being kept … since chapter 16. And it was supposed to be remembered from that time forward.
But the point I'm trying to get at is in one area a remembrance is supposed to be proof that an event had already occurred. However, in another area a remembrance means no such thing at all. It's inconsistent! The Jews have supposedly been “remembering” a dark and deadly prophetic event for the past 3,400 years that we ourselves haven’t even seen come to pass yet. 

Not too shabby for a memorial, eh?

The reason why I bring up this section here at all is to bring to your attention one idea - the day has no meaning given in the Bible and with the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD there is no symbolic meaning within the day either. What memorial? Without the shofar and without the sacrifices, the ritual has been completely gutted.
This being the case, Armstrongist doctrine has to fill something in. Anything! It grasps for meaning in a day where the only provided meaning is lost. Inherently knowing that a memorial is insufficient, any connection to modern time - even one employing the English word "trumpets" to arrive at seven horrible trumpet plagues - is better than accepting the hollowness of pointless hours ticking by on a clock for their own sake. How can a mandatory day just exist in and of itself? The question begs to be asked, "What is the meaning of Trumpets in a New Covenant context?" But the best, most obvious answer is skipped completely in favor of holding to a certain fickle speculation about how prophecy will unfold.


If the Feast of Trumpets has a meaning in the Bible at all, and if the Feast of Trumpets looks forward to anything, it is this -- Jesus Christ. All of the shadows of the Old Testament point to the substance that casts the shadow -- Jesus Christ (COL. 2: 16-17). Not necessarily to His second coming, but to His first - to prove He is who He says He is and does what He says He will. To know anything about the holy days, one must go to the source and goal.

Take the Day of Atonement for example.
Who knows the secrets of our hearts? Jesus. Who is the sacrifice for our atonement? Jesus. Who was led outside of town? Jesus. Who was innocent, yet our sins were placed on his head? Jesus. Who is the Great High Priest? Jesus. Who heals the rift between us and God and makes right the broken relationship? Jesus. When did Jesus do these things? At His first advent.
Atonement points to Jesus!

I must make it absolutely clear at this point - we vehemently disagree that Satan is the Azazel goat, as many of the COG groups teach including the UCG.

Our sins are not placed on Satan, but on Jesus. Jesus alone carried away our sins. The Azazel goat isn't sent away for its own sins, but for the sins of Israel. Satan is imprisoned for his own sins. The sins of others were laid on Jesus. The Azazel goat was innocent! Satan isn't innocent, as Jesus is. The Azazel goat was led out of Jerusalem just as Jesus was led out of Jerusalem to be crucified. The Azazel goat was sent away. Satan isn't being sent away, he's being imprisoned and kept. The Azazel goat was sent away into the wilderness just as Jesus was sent away into death and the grave. The ritual sacrifices (and the Azazel was a sacrifice) all point to some aspect of Jesus and who He is and what He does for us. And we haven't even begun to discuss the High Priest as mediator and the temple cleansing. All Jesus.
The Armstrongist interpretation of the Day of Atonement as representing the first event of the Millennium where Satan is imprisoned, hangs on Satan being the fulfillment of the Azazel goat. Not only does it ignore every other symbol of the day but it gives Satan a role in our atonement. Jesus is unmistakably the fulfillment of the first goat that was sacrificed, and that happened at His first Advent, and Jesus is the fulfillment of the second goat as well, and that happened at His first Advent.

The Day of Atonement was entirely about the necessity of Jesus' sacrifice. It was about the broken relationship, the need for a mediator, our complete inability to do this on our own, and in short our need for Him. If Passover is about the fact that He died to successfully wash away our guilt, then Atonement is about why He needed to die to successfully wash away our guilt.

If Satan isn't the Azazel goat but rather Jesus is, then Atonement pictures His first Advent and there is nothing at all that ties Atonement to the Millennium.

So, what is Trumpets? No one alters the course of their life without first evaluating their situation. It is the call for Israel to see themselves as they really were! The Bible says "Watch!" but it never says "watch the news". The call is to watch yourself. The shofar blows an alarm to startle Israel from their contentment and complacency and sin so that Atonement can come. The shofar called to Israel, "See your need! See your need!"

Israel surrounded Jericho and marched, but it was not their direct assault that brought down the walls. Gideon and 300 men rushed at the Assyrians, but it wasn't their swords that drove out the whelming horde. The Apostles hid in the upper room and prayed, but it wasn't their own righteousness that brought the mighty sound of rushing wind and the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit.
You have sinned. We all have! Merely humble yourself and acknowledge your need for Him. He takes care of the rest, and indeed has already taken care of it. His grace is sufficient even for your sins. Hear the jolting alarm of the shofar - see your need! Then, "Do not be afraid; only believe." (MAR. 5: 36).

Now, I'm not talking about hating yourself. The Worldwide Church of God used to teach people to hate themselves:
"Far from being fond of ourselves, let us, like Job, come to see ourselves from a God's-eye view, so that the next time you ask yourself the question, "What am I?" you can say, "I'm carnal, I'm selfish, I hate myself!" and really mean it!" 
-David P. Wainright, Good News magazine, Feb-Mar 1966, p.14

That approach is absolutely wrongheaded and dangerous. God does not want you to hate yourself. Hating yourself is not humility. Not thinking of yourself at all is far closer to humility than hating yourself. Godly sorrow has nothing to do with hating yourself. God doesn't demand you grovel, just acknowledge. He's not going to berate you for your sin; He's going to blot out the sin. He's takes the punishment in our place. No need to punish yourself! Just be honest.

So, when the teruah alarm wakes us up to our misbehavior, who paid that price for that misbehavior? Jesus. When we see our helplessness and recognize our need, to whom should we cry out? Jesus. Who accomplished a victory for us on the cross 2,000 years ago? Jesus. Who should we have in mind for Trumpets? Jesus. Who is the solid reality that fulfills the shadow of the sabbaths and holy days? Jesus. The shofar was yet another tool of the nanny that leads all who understand its lessons to Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by faith (GAL. 3: 24-25). Not at His second coming, but at His first - and every day.

Now that we've gone over these things, we must reevaluate whether or not either The Feast of Trumpets or the Day of Atonement primarily represent the return of Christ. We must challenge the assumption that Trumpets is trumpets. And if not, then the Armstrongist interpretation of the holy days picturing "God's 7,000 year plan" goes from starting weakly to nearly unworkable.


The Feast of Trumpets is translated from the Hebrew phrase Yom Teruah, which means "Day of Blowing the Shofar" or "Day of Great Noise". "Trumpets" isn't really the best translation there since there is a clear distinction in tradition between the shofar and a trumpet. So the Armstrongist Church of God groups give the day a name that is imprecise to begin with.

The Armstrongist Church of God groups teach that the Feast of Trumpets points to the seven trumpet plagues of Revelation. They conclude this because the Feast of Trumpets has the word trumpets in it, and the trumpet plagues of Revelation also have the word trumpets. And that's really the long and the short of it. The connection between Trumpets and trumpets is 'trumpets'. But if the name really should be shofar, then this connection is as weak as any could be.

Since the Armstrongist Church of God groups teach that Trumpets points to the seven trumpet plagues of Revelation, then they are actually celebrating devastating plagues. They also conclude that the Azazel goat sacrificed on the Day of Atonement represents Satan being imprisoned, which gives Satan a role in mankind's atonement.
Unfortunately Satan is a terrible match for this symbol; Jesus Christ Himself is by far a better match - and that at His first coming. There is no strong reason whatsoever to believe that either Trumpets or Atonement point to the time of Jesus' second coming. And if you are willing to read our Tabernacles and Day of Atonement articles, you'll see there's no strong reason to believe those point to Jesus' second coming either.

As supporting evidence, the Armstrongist Church of God groups also teach that mankind will have 7,000 years on this earth and the seven Old Testament holy days teach about that time. The reasoning for this is no stronger than the "Trumpets/trumpets" connection. This time, there are 7 holy days and 7,000 years. So, "Trumpets/trumpets" and "7/7,000".

I find none of the proofs to be convincing. It's all conjecture and speculation towards a predetermined conclusion. The conclusions about the Feast of Trumpets don't come from the evidence. The conclusion was already reached then evidence had to be found to justify it post facto.

As you sit in sevices this year, listening intently to the sermon, after everything you hear please ask yourself these things:

  • Is there anything tying this verse to the Feast of Trumpets besides the English word "trumpets" or the number seven?
  • Would this evidence convince a non-believer, or do I only accept this only because it agrees with what I already believe?
  • Does this really help me to understand the larger picture? 
  • How much of this content points me to Christ so that I can be justified by faith versus how much points me to prophetic speculation (that changes quite often) so I can be justified by my own efforts at law-keeping?

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourselfit is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11

Monday, September 22, 2014

New Moons - What Josephus Says They Were Really Doing

In my last post, we looked at some of the word games COGWA and other Churches of God play to fit their theology around the shadows of Colossians 2. The COGs recognize that they need to make "food" and "drink" mean "eating" and "drinking" in Colossians 2:16, otherwise their teachings about clean and unclean meats, the Holy Days and Sabbath start to unravel.

So COGWA asserts just that, without sources or much scholarly support. In the COGWA article, Colossians 2:16-17: Did Paul Warn Against Keeping God's Law?, Cecil Maranville asserts that the early Church celebrated the Holy Days, in part, through joyous eating and drinking, and that others criticized them for that.

"In summary, Colossians 2 shows that people in the congregation who were promoting ungodly doctrines were criticizing the Christians (both Jews and gentiles) for their joyous observance of festivals, new moons and Sabbaths," Maranville writes. "Paul confronted these heresies, and he told the members who were feasting according to God’s festival and Sabbath laws to carry on as they had been doing."

COGWA correctly recognizes a Gnostic element in many of the criticisms that are leveled at the brethren in Colossians. Although Christian Gnosticism didn't really take the stage until the second century AD, non-Christian Gnosticism had been around for centuries. It's reasonable to assume that Christian Gnosticism didn't spontaneously appear - that some Gnostic beliefs were on the scene in around 60 AD, when most scholars believe Paul wrote Colossians. And of course, one Gnostic tenet included asceticism - the believe that indulging physical pleasures was sinful and should be avoided. Many Gnostics believed in consuming food and drink practically at a subsistence level, and would have frowned on the joyful, bountiful meals COGWA claim believers enjoyed together on Sabbaths and Holy Days.

So, if Maranville's claims about this passage are accurate, we probably should find evidence that the early church similarly feasted on New Moons. COGWA hasn't written much about this topic, so instead I'll turn to The United Church of God's 2002 New Moons study paper. It's ok, Maranville and COGWA were part of UCG then anyway. This was before the split. UCG says that instructions on the New Moon are vague - the first part is found in Numbers 10, and called for a blowing of trumpets at the beginning of the month. Unofficial new moon traditions are mentioned from time to time - like King Saul holding a special meal at the palace or sacrifices, funded by a new tax instituted by Nehemiah. During some periods, oral law restricted women's workload during the New Moon.

But by the end of the end of the second temple period, UCG says, New Moon celebrations had become virtually nonexistent. There is no evidence that Christ or his apostles did anything special on the day of the New Moon, UCG concludes. This is probably why they also feel free to conclude that brethren in Colossae were holding some kind of New Moon observance, and Paul was telling them not let ascetics judge their feasting.

"We have no indication of what members in Colossae were doing on New Moons," UCG says. "We only have Paul's instructions not to let heretics impose ascetic practices on them."

Well, guess what? I have an indication of what was going on in Colossae during the New Moons. While the COGs correctly identify the Gnostic elements of the Colossian heresy, they are totally blind to its Jewish aspects, probably because they embrace many of the same teachings. The COGs habitually read right over passages in which Judaizers pressure Gentiles to adopt the laws and practices of the Sinai Covenant, since they do the same thing to a lesser, more cherry-picked degree.

But most others have concluded that the Colossian heresy was a syncretist movement combining Judaism, a pagan forerunner of Gnosticism, and elements of Christianity, according to Expositor's Bible Commentary. For more details, please read my first post on this topic.

In their rush to blame the Gnostics, the COGs miss the detail that the Jews did have a ritual marking the New Moon in Paul's day - Rosh Chodesh. A ritual that had nothing to do with food, liquid, eating or drinking.

Rosh Chodesh (literally "head of the month") corresponds to the Greek word for New Moon, according to David H. Stern's Jewish New Testament Commentary. In Paul's day, when the New Moon was confirmed visually, "word was brought to the rabbis in Jerusalem at the first sighting of the new moon; fires were lit on successive hilltops to signal Rosh-Chodesh to the Diaspora," or Jews who no longer lived in Jerusalem.

After the first Babylonian exile, when many Jews still lived in Babylon, the Jewish courts in Jerusalem set up a system to relay confirmation of the new moon so that those in the Diaspora knew when to keep the holy days ( This was important because only the Sanhedrin could legally set the Holy Day calendar. Astronomical science was advanced enough to predict the date rather reliably, but Jewish law required the testimony of two witnesses to officially establish the New Moon. Jewish historian Flavius Josephus documents the critical role of the witness on page 685 of his Sequel to the History of the Jews. If a person who was one of the first to see the New Moon was physically unable to walk, he was not exempt from the duty to testify about his observation. Instead, he was required to ride on an animal or to be carried on a bed. And even if the witnesses had to travel on the Sabbath, "it will be lawful to profane the Sabbath to travel thereon, to give their evidence as to the appearance of the New Moon." Why? Because establishing the dates for the feasts of the Lord was that important, Josephus indicates.

Once visual confirmation was made, thread and flax were attached to staves of cedar wood, canes, and olive branches and lit on fire on the mountaintops around Jerusalem, Josephus says. They were waved repeatedly until someone was spotted on the next mountain doing the same thing, until "the whole country of the captivity appeared like a blazing fire."

Jews in each community throughout the region would see the fire on the next mountain over, gather on their own hilltop and light their own bonfire ( At the height of this practice, the fires could be seen from Egypt to Babylon. The Mishna tells us that the first fire was lit on the Mount of Olives and the next relay fire was at Sartaba, a place that was approximately 24 miles away. Sounds like that had to be more than just one guy named Aaron waving a single torch on top of a hill.

The tradition only stopped just before the temple fell, because the Samaritans started lighting fires at conflicting times to try to confuse the Jews and disrupt the holy days. At that point, they started sending messengers out from Jerusalem to carry the news. This is where the Jewish practice of Diaspora Jews celebrating many festivals for extended periods originated - in case the messenger was waylaid.

I don't think it's a stretch to believe that the heretics at Colossae were participating in this tradition. Even a group with Gnostic leanings - like the Essenes- would be concerned with Jewish New Moon traditions if they held the Holy Days and other aspects of the Sinai Covenant. Not only does it sound like an enjoyable tradition (fire, camaraderie and an awesome vantage point), but it included a strong sense of duty. Your town was responsible for passing the important message of the New Moon to those even further away from Jerusalem. If you didn't do your duty, you could be responsible for others missing the New Moon, miscalculating the Holy Days. In other words, you could be responsible for their sin.

So, given all that, tell me, which scenario is more likely?

a. The COG explanation - that no one had celebrated the New Moon for hundreds of year, then brethren at Colossae spontaneously started their own New Moon observance, which involved feasting, and Paul was telling them not to let the ascetics judge them for celebrating.

b. The explanation from Jewish history - that the Jews had been marking New Moons in the way documented by Josephus and many others for around 600 years, and that the Jews and Judaizers were criticizing Colossian brethren who did not gather with them participate in this monthly practice?

Why does it matter? Because if the answer is "b", then Colossian brethren were not being criticized for New Moon practices related to food, and the COG argument that this scripture points to criticism from ascetics alone falls apart. And casts doubt on whether the brethren really were being criticized for their feasting on Sabbaths and Holy Days, as the COGs claim.

Also, if the answer is "b", the COGs are encouraging their followers to sin by not celebrating the New Moons. In its paper, UCG claims that, according to Colossians 2:16-17, the brethren were being judged on how they kept the Sabbath and Holy Days, not for keeping them. But if this passage reinforces that the Sabbath and Holy Days are still commanded, then the New Moons are still commanded and those in the COGs who do not observe them are sinning. It's got to be one or the other. If New Moons are not required today, then the other things on the list aren't, either.

In his second book on the annual Holy Days, Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi also concludes that the New Moon is important primarily for its role in determining when to celebrate the Hebrew festivals.

"Since the dates of the new moon were determined in ancient Israel by actual observation, the appearance of the new moon was essential to the stability of the civil and religious calendar. It signified worship regularity in the observance of the annual feasts which were dependent upon appearance of a new moon." (God's Festivals in Scripture and History, Part II: The Fall Festivals, p. 232).

Without a precise date, one could miscalculate and celebrate a festival on the wrong day, profaning an annual Sabbath. So when Paul told the brethren at Colossae not to let others judge them for not participating in the Rosh Chodesh ritual, it was tantamount to him saying they didn't need to concern themselves with the timing of the Holy Days any more.

Yes, I know Paul's other writings include several references to the Holy Days. Let's remember he was the apostle to the Gentiles, and many of his epistles warned against imposing tenets of the Sinai Covenant on Gentiles. Let's also remember Acts 15. If Gentiles can receive the gift of salvation without keeping Holy Days or abstaining from unclean meats, then Jews can, too, because there is only one path to salvation. Many Messianic Jews still observe these shadows, Stern says, because they are a pleasant part of their culture, but have the substance of Christ as well. But these shadows are irrelevant to Gentiles, since God did not give these commands to them, and Paul urges the Colossians not to be bound to them (p. 611-612). In the early church, Scripture indicates that Christian Jews were pressuring gentiles to adopt practices from the Law of Moses, but it doesn't indicate that Gentiles were pressuring Jews to give up their traditions.

(At this point, I'm sorry to burst your bubble, but if you're in the COGs, unless your last name is Levy or Goldman, your ethnic heritage probably is not Hebrew. At this point genetic research has refuted British Israelism - the theory that Western Europeans and Americans are ethnically descended from the "Lost 10 Tribes of Israel." In short, you are a Gentile. A Gentile God loves, a Gentile for whom Jesus willingly suffered and died, but a Gentile, nonetheless.) For more information along these lines, please visit:

Though I'm probably a little biased after this research, I think there's a high probability that the brethren aren't being criticized for feasting on the New Moons. The odds are very good that their absence at the Rosh Chodesh fires were the issue.

And if the brethren weren't being criticized for feasting on the New Moons, then it's also possible they weren't being criticized simply for their feasting on Sabbaths and Holy Days. Consider also that food and drink, or eating and drinking, or however you would like to translate it, are listed in addition to the Sabbaths and Holy Days. Though Paul was a wordy guy, he wasn't overly redundant.

If the heretics at Colossae were judging the brethren for NOT participating in the Rosh Chodesh ritual, what are the chances that they were also judging them for NOT participating in the Holy Days? Especially when Paul all but said there was no reason to mark the New Moon, the main purpose of which was to calculate the Holy Days.

When we start considering the full context of Colossians 2, we can see the pieces of the puzzle starting to come together. Reassurances about the Colossians' physically uncircumcised state. Discussion about a legal document being nailed to the Cross. Food, New Moons, Sabbaths and Holy Days being described merely as shadows that pointed to Christ. Faith in Jesus being emphasized as the important thing, the current reality. The picture these puzzle pieces create is not a good one for the COG interpretation of Colossians 2.

(This series, and specifically this post, is intended to explore one passage of scripture, not to definitively disprove COG teachings on the Sinai Covenant, clean and unclean meats, Sabbaths and the like. For more information along those lines please visit the following links:

So far, in this series, we have seen COGWA turn to the Greek language to support their interpretation, yet try to twist the Greek to fit the rules of English and their erroneous doctrine. They've provided no sources for their assertions on how to translate "eating" and "drinking" in Colossians 2:16, and have disregarded rules of Greek grammar in the process. They also have failed to properly translate a simple word like "but."

As UCG employees a decade earlier, these same ministers claimed that no one marked the New Moon even as late as Jesus' day. They seem to be totally unaware of the Rosh Chodesh ritual, which lit skies afire from Egypt to Babylon each New Moon for around 600 years.

So, I ask, after seeing all the COG's twisting and spin throughout Colossians 2, will you continue to give them the benefit of the doubt? Or does what you've read raise questions about the conclusions they've drawn from this passage?

In my next two posts, we'll explore Colossians 2:17 as it pertains to the word "shadow." We'll also examine Jewish meaning and symbolism behind the fall Holy Days as shadows cast by Jesus. It's only by understanding this context that we can grasp the heart of what Paul says in this verse.

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Word Games

English is a funny language. We use the same English word - love - to discuss our feelings for our spouse, our dog, our football team and our favorite pizza topping. And even those concepts are more closely related than some English words that share a common spelling.

Ancient Greek, however, is not like English. With half a dozen words that describe different aspects of love, it is a tad more precise than English. Obviously, like anything devised by men, it can be misunderstood. But I'm sure glad the New Testament was originally written in Greek instead of English. Wait, you knew that, right? Just wondering. Because apparently some Church of God splinters are a little shaky on that fact. Ahem, COGWA, I'm looking at you.

Since the COGs are in the midst of the Fall Holy Day season, I decided to study Colossians 2, particularly verses 13-17, in which Paul refers to the festivals (among other things) as a "shadow". Naturally, I turned to groups like COGWA, UCG and LCG to see what the COGs are teaching these days. One of COGWA's articles - Colossians 2:16-17:Did Paul Warn Against Keeping God's Law?, by Cecil Maranville, particularly interested me. Mostly because it turned out to be a whole lot of word games with very little scholarship backing them up. But I'm not just picking on COGWA. Similar articles with similar problems appear on many COG splinter web sites.

Before we get started, let's look at the verses in question, from the NKJV translation:

"So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ." Colossians 2:16-17

One of COGWA's first criticisms of Protestant Christianity's take on this passage is that biased translators supposedly misinterpret verse 17. No shock there, that's a common COG argument. What Maranville wrote next, however, did surprise me. He cited Paul's tendency toward writing long sentences and claims that the "but the body" statement in verse 17 should be connected with "Let no one judge you" from verse 16. As opposed to it being juxtaposed with the "shadow" concept earlier in the same verse, that is. He then asserts that Paul meant that no one should allow anyone to judge how they celebrate the New Moons, Sabbaths and festivals but, or except, the Body of Christ, the church.

"In other words, let no man or group of men judge you on how you are practicing the Old Testament laws and customs. Listen only to the body of Christ, the Church," Maranville says in his article.

Ironically, Maranville makes a mistake similar to the one he accused the translators of making - a biased misinterpretation based on what he wants the Greek to say. Remember, in English, one word can have many different, often unrelated meanings. This is not usually the case in Greek.

In Colossians 2:17, the word "but" is the word "de" in Greek, which can mean "also", "and," "moreover" or "now," according to Spiros Zodhiates' Complete Word Study of the New Testament. It can also be translated as "on the other hand" or "nevertheless," according to Thayer's Greek Lexicon. The particle indicates opposition and distinction, and is often added to statements opposed to a preceding statement, according to Thayer's.

We see examples of "de" being used in 1 Corinthians 2:15 (But he who is spiritual judges all things), Acts 12:5 (Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church), Acts 12:9 (Peter followed him out of the prison, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision) and Romans 4:5 (But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness), among other passages.

By comparison, the English word "but" that is synonymous for "except" is the Greek term "ei me" except, if not, more than, save (only). We see this term in verses like 1 John 2:22 (Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ?), John 3:13 (No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven), Acts 11:19 (preaching the word to no one but the Jews only) and I Corinthians 8:4 (and that there is no other God but one), among others.  

So the Greek word meaning "but" in Colossians 2:17 can also be translated in ways like "moreover," "on the other hand" and often indicates distinction, opposing a preceding statement. This is the term we see in this passages - contrasting the shadow of the festivals with the reality of Christ. The word cannot mean "except" - it is a totally different Greek word with a different roots. Maranville's argument is like claiming that a man who plans to "lead" an expedition is really planning on poisoning them with the element "lead". The fact that two words are spelled the same in English doesn't mean they share a common Greek etymology.

So even though I've shown that the first half of COGWA's argument doesn't make any sense, I'll play along for the second part, where they address the phrase "body of Christ." To be fair, the Greek word "soma" (body) in Colossians 2:17 is sometimes used as COGWA claims. It can be translated as a flesh-and-blood body, the Church as the Body of Christ or a material or substance. Elsewhere in the Bible, the phrase used in Colossians 2:17 sometimes refers to the Church and other times refers to Jesus' literal body. Given this, let's look at the context.

Which makes more sense:

"So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, on the other hand the Church."

"Which are a shadow of things to come, moreover the Church."

"Which are a shadow of things to come, nevertheless the Church."


"So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, on the other hand the substance is Christ."

"Which are a shadow of things to come, moreover the body is Christ."

"Which are a shadow of things to come, nevertheless the substance is Christ."

Even a cursory reading shows us COGWA's translation makes no sense in context. Nor does it even have any connection to the word "shadow." When we consider that Thayer's explains the Greek word "de" is used to compare and contrast with a preceding statement, it's hard to escape the conclusion that Paul is contrasting the intangible nature of a shadow with a tangible object that creates the shadow. We'll explore more on that topic at a later time. For now, let's move on to COGWA's next questionable point of scholarship.

Next, COGWA asserts that the words "food" and "drink" in verse 16 are in the gerund form, so a more accurate translation would be "eating" and "drinking." For now, I'll ignore the fact that they never provide a source for this claim and move on to the gerund issue.

Now, before you get mad at me for getting picky about obscure parts of speech, I want to tell you that I didn't even remember what a gerund was. And I'm a writer. So I'm not the one trying to look all scholarly here. I had to look it up. (In case you're wondering, it's a word that's derived from a verb that functions as a noun. Basically you tack an "ing" on the end of a verb to make a gerund). But I'm glad I looked it up. Do you know why? Because that's how I learned there is no such thing as a Greek gerund. Latin has gerunds. English has gerunds. But Greek - the language in which the New Testament is written - does not.

Why is that important? Because it means that, for the second time in the same article, COGWA is assuming a conclusion based on its preferred English translation of a word and tries to make us interpret the original Greek text through that definition. If Maranville is talking about gerunds, he must be discussing English grammar, not Greek, because there is no such thing in Greek. If COGWA is going to make sweeping claims about biased translators while forcing their own biased translation on us, they should at least provide a source for their biased translation.

In the original Greek, the word "brosis" can either mean "eating" or "food," according to Zodhiates' Complete Word Study of the New Testament. The same book says in that specific verse, it is a noun that is part of an anarthrous construction. An anarthrous construction refers to a word or group of words which appear without a definite article. According to Zodhiates, it's often best to translate these constructions by supplying a definite article - by inserting "a," "an" or "the."

Ok, let's try it and see what makes logical sense:

"So let no one judge you in an eating...".

"So let no one judge you in a food...".

And, just for fun, let's try it in the King James Version, since many COG members consider any translation that's newer to be watered down.

"Let no man therefore judge you in a meat...". 
     Woops! I bet that NKJV is suddenly looking more attractive to them.

Biblically speaking, we do see "brosis" referring to the act of eating, as in 1 Corinthians 8:4. In verses like John 6:27, Hebrews 12:16 and 2 Corinthians 9:10, the word clearly applies to food. In the latter two, it's a noun that's part of an anarthrous construction. I'm not going to say it's impossible for Colossians 2:16 to mean "eating," but it doesn't seem to fit the pattern. At any rate, the word can mean "eating" but there's no reason, no evidence for Maranville to say that the word must mean "eating," except for that's what COGWA wants it to mean
And why does COGWA want "brosis" to mean "eating?". So that they don't have to explain why this verse could just as easily mean what they argue against -- not letting anyone judge believers in the specific foods they ate.

And now we get to the heart of the matter.

The COGs claim that Paul was refuting Gnostic ascetics in Colossians 2. Ascetics believed that indulging the fleshly desire for enjoyable food was sinful, and as a result, they highly restricted their food intake and the types of food they would eat. These ascetics, the COGs claim, were criticizing the brethren of the early church because of the physical feasting they did on Holy Days, the Sabbath and, apparently, the New Moon. 
Never mind that COGWA never explains how eating and drinking could be a shadow of Christ. The Sabbath and Holy Days I can see. I can even see clean and unclean meats as a shadow of the separation between Jew and Gentile. But eating and drinking? Those are one step away from bodily functions.
At any rate, to accept the COG's interpretation, we ALSO have to ignore the fact that the Sabbath and festivals are listed separately from matters of food and drink. 
I know, Paul's a wordy guy, we all know that, whatever, he was just being poetic.

I know, part of you is wondering whether you should believe me. What if I'm the one playing word games here and COGWA has it right? That's a fair question. I welcome you to test what I've written. Grab your Bible helps and read it for yourself. If you don't have the resources at home, web sites like have many free tools. Just to get you started, here's a link to Biblehub's interlinear Greek Bible for Colossians 2:16. At another free site, E-Sword, I believe you can download Thayer's. Check it out for yourself. We are each told to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. 

In my previous post on the shadows, we saw that many scholars believe the heresy Paul addressed at Colossae included elements of both Gnosticism and Judaism. Ascetic criticism of the way the brethren were eating could be a factor, but most believe that these heretics were trying to impose food laws from the Sinai Covenant on the gentile brethren in Colossae. Yet we never hear the part about Colossian Judaizing from the COGs. The COGs seem blind to the Judaizing element in the Colossian heresy, primarily because they accept many of the same practices.

Suppose Paul really is just rebuking the ascetics for judging the brethren regarding their feasting, and they are not being judged on matters of the Sabbath and Holy Days themselves. If so, we should see some evidence that the early church marked the New Moon with feasting as well.
But where would we find that? I mean, New Moon celebrations disappeared hundreds of years before Jesus was born, according to the COGs.

But what if there is evidence that Jews had a very specific tradition for marking the New Moon in Paul's day? A tradition that had been around for hundreds of years. A tradition in which those with Jewish leanings may have participated, and could have easily pressured the brethren at Colossae to join. A tradition that in no way involved food.

In my next post, we'll examine the New Moon ritual the Jewish community outside Jerusalem used to mark the beginning of each month. This ritual is well-documented, by historians like the highly respected than Flavius Josephus, and is quite likely what Paul was referencing when he mentioned New Moons in Colossians 2:16. 

------- Other posts in this series -------
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Shadows of the Fall Holy Days

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11